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Biden’s Education Transition Team Heavy on Obama Officials and Union Staff

By Evie Blad — November 10, 2020 2 min read
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President-elect Joe Biden announced his transition team for the U.S. Department of Education that’s intended to ensure a smooth handoff from President Donald Trump’s administration.

The agency review team, made up of volunteers, is one of a list assigned to federal agencies across the government. Biden transition office announced the team’s members on Tuesday.

The team appointed to guide education efforts includes representatives from teachers’ unions, alumni from President Barack Obama’s Education Department, and higher education officials.

The team will be led by Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the California state education board and founder of the Learning Policy Institute, who also helped oversee Obama’s education transition. Darling-Hammond had been rumored to be a possible Biden education secretary pick, but she told EdSource she wasn’t interested in that role.

While the team is heavy on former Obama administration officials, it also includes Jessica Cardichon, the director of federal policy at the Learning Policy Institute and a former education aide to independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of Biden’s key challengers for the Democratic nomination.

It also includes Pedro Rivera, the former Pennsylvania secretary of education whose name has been floated by education insiders as a possible choice for education secretary, and Norma Cantú, who was assistant secretary for civil rights at the education department during the Clinton administration.

So far, the Trump administration hasn’t formally acknowledged Biden’s win. While that delay is not yet a pressing concern for the Education Department, according to people we’ve spoken with, that could change.

Here are some notable K-12 names on the education team:

Obama Administration Alumni

  • Ary Amerikaner, a former deputy assistant secretary of education who currently works at Education Trust, a progressive think tank
  • Emma Vadehra, who previously served as chief of staff for Education Secretary Arne Duncan and now works at the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank
  • Roberto Rodriguez, the President and CEO of Teach Plus who served as an education policy aide in the Obama White House
  • Lindsay Dworkin, the former deputy assistant secretary for outreach at the Education Department who now works at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a K-12 advocacy group
  • Ruthanne Buck, a former advisor to Duncan and Education Secretary John King
  • Keia Cole, who worked in the counsel’s office at the Obama Education Department and now works as the head of digital experience at MassMutual, an insurance company

Teachers’ Union Representatives

  • Beth Antunez, deputy director of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Donna Harris-Aikens, senior director of education policy at the National Education Association
  • Shital Shah, manager of philanthropic engagement at AFT
  • Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, assistant to the president for educational issues at AFT

“These teams are composed of highly experienced and talented professionals with deep backgrounds in crucial policy areas across the federal government,” Biden’s transition office said in a statement. “The teams have been crafted to ensure they not only reflect the values and priorities of the incoming administration, but reflect the diversity of perspectives crucial for addressing America’s most urgent and complex challenges.”

You can read the full education transition team list here.